A Closing Hymn

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Notre Dame Cathedral in District One, Saigon

I have found such peace in my Sunday morning routines. I “sleep in,” which in this country means I wake up at 7:30 am rather than my usual 6:00 am wake up call. After breakfast with my homestay family, I hop on a motorbike and head to the Notre Dame Cathedral in District One for mass in English. My host family is Buddhist but has made sure that I have access to mass every Sunday morning. The first weekend with them, my older host brother drove me around to visit several churches I could go to. They don’t come with me but as soon as I come back home they are patiently waiting for me to tell them about the service.

This Sunday morning, I woke up feeling a little lonely. During the Summer, my family sits in our normal pew at our hometown parish. At my college, I have my huge church network and am never able to attend mass without knowing at least twenty people. It is a community that has helped me be able to grow in my faith. However, in Vietnam it has been a faith community of two beings: me and God.

As I sat in a pew by myself but surrounded by local people and tourists from all over the world. I was immediately at peace, as hundreds of voices begin worshiping together. I remembered that no matter if it is a congregation in Ho Chi Minh City, Loudonville NY, or Marlborough CT, I am in the presence of brothers and sisters who are all there to do what I am there to do.

Maybe it is because I’m in Asia so everything I experience is cool and exciting, but mass here is always perfect. I leave feeling ready to take on the week of new experiences, whatever this study abroad experience throws at me. Every week, whatever the mass is about usually can relate to my life at the time, perfectly. You know those moments where you just want to shout to God, “Okay, I get it. I hear you loud and clear.” Where He is speaking so clearly to you directly and there’s no way to pretend you aren’t hearing it. His timing is perfect and He tells me exactly what I need to hear. As the choir started singing the closing hymn, the words on the television screen spoke so deeply to my 20 year old soul.

“There’s a longing in our hearts for love we only find in you, our God.”

So much of my study abroad experience is about learning about independence. I needed an adventure that would allow me to find myself, connecting with me after loosing touch of that over the past two years. The concept of this closing hymnal lyric is something that I am constantly trying to reflect on, wrapping my mind around the greatness and power that this line demonstrates.

My experience in Vietnam has taught me that I am so much more than who I hang out with, what my relationship status is, and what my weekend social obligations are. I used to put too much stress on finding love in places and people that left me feeling more empty.

At the youngest age my parents taught me that God loves me and I love God. It was a simple equation that I could repeat back, but never took time to grasp the concept. I think it is so difficult to understand because it is an overwhelming concept and idea of love. While away from my family & friends, I have felt the unconditional love of the Father in the strength that he gives me each day. It is beautiful to discover what real love feels like, looks like, and exemplifies. If you ever need a reminder, just look at the cross!

Last year I was not able to comprehend this idea of love. I thought I knew what it was and what it would look like. To be honest, I still don’t always know what real, authentic love looks like. However, Vietnam and my time here has allowed me to prayer and discern unconditional love in a different level. We want a love that we can only receive from God the Father and when you recognize that, it is a beautiful thing. I don’t think I am there yet. There are days where I think I have a hold on the idea but there are other days where I find myself settling for a love less than God wants for us.

I surely don’t have this down but since arriving in Vietnam February 1st, I set goals to better understand God’s love and how I find God’s love in others. I thought it would be a good time to do this since  I was going to be away from all relationships: family and friends. It’s a challenge figuring this out with no guidance from others but I needed the definition of love to be discovered from my relationship with God, and God alone.

I am thankful for the prayers that my family & friends back home have offered up for me. This process would be a lot harder without them. I continue to pray for guidance, answers, and peace in this process.

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I have a thing for faith based tattoos I guess?

Finally, one more religious update from Vietnam: I got my third tattoo (Are we surprised?) It is a constant reminder that God is by my side through this journey and in every journey before and moving forward.

Sorry (but not really) for another “Jesus-y” blog post. It’s the most meaningful aspect of my study abroad experience. I can’t talk about this journey without talking about Him!

Happy Sunday Blog Followers!

In His name,
EKH

What a Buddhist Monastery Taught Me About Being Catholic

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Sunsets over the Truc Lam Monastery

I spent the last week in the beautiful city of Dalat, Vietnam, a city filled with flowers, coffee, french architecture, strawberries, mountains, and more. The cool “spring-time” weather was a nice break from the heat and hustle of Saigon. This short excursion was filled with a visit to a silk factory, a coffee farm, two trips to waterfalls, rainbow sightings, an intense hike up Langbiang Mountain, walks down the streets of the famous night market, and an evening spent at the Truc Lam Buddhist Monastery.

Vietnam is a country which predominantly practices the Buddhist religion, with ten percent of the population being practicing Christians. I knew the adjustment from my faith filled college campus to this country was going to be a challenge and I was expecting my faith to be tested but I was not sure what to expect.

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“Elephant” Waterfall outside the city of Dalat

Growing up Catholic, my family would go to mass every Sunday, with an occasional skipping of one Sunday for family vacations here and there. If we couldn’t make it on Sunday, we would go Saturday night. This was all a part of my weekend routine. Now, as a 20 year old college student, I have decided to continue furthering my faith. I am blessed to go to a Franciscan Catholic College which gives me opportunities to grow spiritually alongside my peers. And it’s not uncommon for me to attend mass 2-3 times every Sunday just because I love the people who go and all that I get out of college mass. While College has truly taught me more about my faith, being abroad has pushed me closer to God than I ever thought it would. I have been forced to lean upon His strength when He was the only comforting and familiar voice I knew. I left for a country across the world with just Him and I, and I continue trusting that He is with me through this entire process.

This past week, my class was invited to a Monastery to have dinner and practice meditation with the Buddhist nuns in Dalat. It was a beautiful experience that I am very thankful for. As we entered, we were given robes and took our shoes off. We sat tall on pillows as the nuns led us in a meditation.

In the Buddhist faith, meditation serves as an important tool for practicing mindfulness, being attentive to the true nature of one’s body and thoughts. The nun led us in a ten to fifteen minute silent meditation where we were to count our breaths. However, I didn’t follow the instructions and rather than focusing on my breathing, I decided to use to this time to sit with God in prayer. (I get that this defeated the purpose of a Buddhist mediation but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do). This was a perfect chance to spend time in deep and meaningful prayer. No distractions! It was a form of my own meditation. This allotted time forced me into constant and undisrupted prayer.

I came out of this prayer time calm. I was able to acknowledge and thank God for the opportunities I’m having, the people I’m meeting, and the beauty of the country that I’m observing. However I also left with the strongest yearning for Eucharist. I have never gone this long without communion and I knew that prayer and rosaries were doing me good, but nothing is as important as taking part in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

So Sunday came and I found myself a beautiful Catholic Cathedral to attend. Mass was at 7:00 am but for all that God is doing for me, waking up early was the least I could do. The mass was in Vietnamese so I was unable to understand the majority of the mass, but I was able to tell what part of the mass we were on and “Amen” is a universal word.

Walking up for communion was honestly the greatest feelings I have experienced here. I imagine I looked like a little kid in line to meet a Disney World character. I  was beaming, knowing that in a few more steps I would receive the Body of Christ. Language barriers have hindered my ability to understand at times, distance has made it hard, and fear has knocked on my door many times, but this entire experience has shown me that God is going no where. Whether it is in small town Connecticut, my college campus, or on the other side of the world, He is present always, in the hills and in the valleys of this journey.

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Smiling at the hills that God created. (Langbiang Mountain)

While I am unable to be constantly surrounded with a church community like back home, I have been able to maintain my faith life through different ways.

  1. I started saying rosaries every night (additional rosaries when stuck on a bus with food poisoning for five hours).
  2. I start every morning with prayer time and praise time, recognizing the blessings in life at this time.
  3. I keep in touch with my faith mentors back home through email, listening to their encouraging words and testimonies.
  4. I talk about my faith with the people around me.
  5. I learn about the different religions in Vietnam. Educating myself about the religious beliefs of others gives me much insight to religion as a whole.
  6. I listen to a lot of “K-Love” radio station and contemporary “Jesus-music.”
  7. I have two praying parents and a whole lot of praying family members who are always there to support me on this journey.
  8. I read a LOT of Catholic blogs.

I am finding God’s presence in so many ways here. I am finding him in the beauty that this country has to offer, the kindness of the people I am meeting, the relationship with my parents and family members back home, and through the strength that I am surprising myself I have. It has been the biggest test of my life and especially with the start of the Lenten season. It is difficult not having a faith filled community to back me up, but this study abroad adventure was about focusing on independence, being alone, and recognizing all that I am capable of. I think it is important that I grow as a Catholic, just me and my God.

In His name,
EKH